Guide To Google Analytics URL Tracking
August 16, 2021
Do you know where your website traffic is coming from and, more importantly, what it’s doing? If not, you could be missing some huge opportunities to improve your business.
Google Analytics URL tracking is a way to see which one of your links is getting clicks, as well as what they’re doing once they land on your site. You can also find out where your customers are from and which pages are most popular. It’s like taking an X-ray of your website.
But setting up these trackers can be difficult for first-time users, and even if it is enabled, knowing how to decipher the information is a whole other ballgame. That’s why I’ll show you not only how — and why — to set it up on your site, but what to do with that information once it arrives on your doorstep.
It’s been said that marketing is more of an art than a science, so if you’re going to use URL trackers efficiently, you need to lean on the expertise of others to find out what works and what doesn’t. That’s what I try to do here — not just tell you what works for me, but what has worked for others as well.
What is Google Analytics URL Tracking?
As marketers, we live and die based on the information that we are given. And where better to find the data we need to make our campaign succeed than the source itself? With over 90% of the online search market share, Google is perfectly positioned to know exactly what their customers are doing on their website, and they're more than willing to give out that information. The only thing we need to do is know how to ask.
That’s where URL tracking comes in. Simply put, URL tracking is the process of setting up unique codes onto the end of your normal links to “track” certain actions that the link-clicker takes. Once they click, for instance, are they following through to the checkout? Are they lingering on a certain webpage more than others? Are they bouncing off the page in less than a few seconds?
What’s more, you can even use URL tracking to see certain demographic information on your customers, such as where they live (generally-speaking) and what locations they’re clicking your link from (if you have multiple versions of the same link). This allows you to dial your marketing efforts even further.
Most of the major search engines have their own version of URL tracking software, but since Google is the resident 800-lb gorilla in the room, it behooves you to set up your tracking URLs there first, for the reasons outlined below.
Why Should I Track My URLs?
Since setting up your URL tracking can be a headache at first — if you’re unfamiliar with it, that is; it’ll get much easier over time — many may wonder why their time is better spent there than in other activities. It all boils down to a few very important reasons.
If you don’t know what type of audience you’re serving, you won’t know how to interact with them. Having tracking links on your URLs allows you to know exactly what type of person you’re trying to reach so that you can speak to them later in campaign emails, landing pages, and other ads.
Particular for businesses who are on a tiny budget, knowing your customer's behavior can help you make the most of the available dollars. Instead of wasting money targeting people and platforms that your audience doesn't use, you can zero in on the most money-making activities and maximize your earning potential that way.
While Google already contains a wealth of information about who is visiting your website, tracking links help by inserting a specific code onto that person following them as they use your site in real time. You won't have to use the aggregate total of all your website’s activities to determine where your website can be improved, you'll know what areas need special attention just by following your ideal customers path.
What Kinds of Activities Can I Track?
Since the whole point of URL tracking is to be granular in your discovery efforts, it's a good idea to know exactly what type of behaviors you can follow with your customers. Some of them may surprise you, but using them in combination with each other is the best way to use URL tracking.
- Total number of website visits
- Approximate location of site visitors
- Whether or not your website is mobile friendly
- Most active referral websites
- Most visited webpages on your site
- Conversion rates of available leads
- Website usage data from customers
- Website speed and optimization suggestions
- Most popular blog content
- ...and more!
Because of the wide range of URL tracking options, combining them with each other is ideal for marketers from every industry, such as affiliate marketers, in-house marketing teams, and third-party agencies. Best of all, there is an endless amount of places where you can drop these tracking links to collect the data from, and once you do, they are largely set it and forget it, meaning you’ll never need to change them until you drop the campaign entirely.
What are URL Parameters?
If you're going to use URL tracking to monitor your Google traffic (and you definitely should), and you need to know what codes you'll need to attach after your URL to give you the desired information. While you certainly can use one of the following five parameters by themselves, the best practice is to combine them to create the most detailed traffic reports possible.
Just as the name implies, this parameter indicates to you the source of your referral traffic, which could be social media or an email that you sent out to your subscribers. Knowing this will allow you to determine where your audience is responding the most from.
Medium tells you the "lane" your customer found you. This could be a CPC campaign that you're running, a referral link that is on somebody else's website, where it could be straight from an organic search that someone typed straight into their address bar.
Every link will have to have a name so that you know what you're looking at, and the "campaign" parameter helps you to identify which Google campaign's data you're looking at.
Keywords are vital to determining search intent, and this parameter will show you which one of your keywords are the highest performing. Not only can you use this keyword data to then reinsert into your original campaign, but you can also sprinkle them throughout your website to drive organic traffic and other paid advertising platforms to make more efficient use of your budget.
The "content" parameter lets you set certain identifiers within each distinct link, even if they’re pointing to the same place. This is particularly useful for A/B testing, such as when you have the same link in two different locations on the landing page. In that case, you want to know which one of the links generates the most traffic, and what you can do to improve the click through rate of the other one.
Google URL Tracking Best Practices
With so much leeway to implement the URL tracking codes all over your marketing efforts, it can be tempting to just dial up a bunch of different links and start plastering them all over the web. Before you do that though, consider a few of the best practices ahead of time. Doing so will make sure that your links are not only the most efficient, but also well organized and easily trackable.
Come Up With Consistent Naming Practices
Nothing derails a marketing campaign faster than misidentifying similar campaigns. Whatever your best practices are as a company, integrate inside of your URL parameters and your life will be infinitely easier.
One of the things you can do is make sure that your URLs don't repeat themselves. If you're going to target social media, for instance, you don't need to insert the parameter for Facebook two or three times in the same URL string. Mention it once, and use the other parameters to dial in other factors that you want to track.
Although not required, it's also a good idea to only use lowercase letters to create your URL code. Google tracking links can be case-sensitive, so if you insert uppercase letters into your links, it'll just be one more thing that you have to keep track of, and one in which it is completely necessary to do so.
If there's any doubt, try writing the URL string like a sentence, with each parameter stating a certain command. Identify a few key practices and refer back to it when setting up new campaigns.
Focus on Conversion Activities
It is totally possible to use URL tracking links to measure every single thing in your campaigns, but you'll most likely go crazy if you try. Instead, focus on the conversion-generating activities, such as leads, sales, and returning customers. Use metrics like time on page and bounce rate as appropriate guides, but don't stress about tracking every single one of those numbers as they go up and down.
Ultimately, it all boils down to conversions anyways, so set up your URL tracking parameters with whatever CRM you have to create a one-stop shop to view all your activities at the same time. If it helps, create a spreadsheet that you update regularly and you'll have a nice list of historical data where you can see change. This will also help if you're running campaigns for a client, since they'll be able to easily track the progress.
Use Links in Social Media
Some people prefer to just create a general link for all of their Facebook posts, possibly greeting a different one for their ads. If you do that though, you won't be able to see which specific type of posts are generating the traffic, and which ones are just receiving engagement.
It can be a headache, but creating different URL links for every different post — or at east, every type of post — can help you see which of your social media posts generate the most revenue. You can do the same thing with Twitter and Instagram, and when used in conjunction with the social media scheduler, can be highly effective in distributing tracking links to all corners of the Internet.
Although it doesn't technically fall under the purview of social media, tracking links in your email is also a game changer. Not only will you be able to determine which emails are generating conversions, but also the placement of those links inside the emails as well. And if you're into affiliate marketing, you can place the links inside banner advertisements too.
How to Set Up URL Tracking Links for Google
It's remarkable how much data Google has, and how much data they want to give you on a regular basis. For that reason, Google makes it super simple to set up your URL tracking links. They even have a URL builder inside of their developer tools that allows you to input the various information that you want to track, and it'll spit out a link that you can then apply to different areas. Here's the link.
If you prefer to create the links on mobile, there are apps for both android and iOS where you can build your own tracking links on the fly. This can be more cumbersome, but it's perfect for quick social media posts where you want to track activities.
Alternatively, you can also create these links manually, but if you do so, remember to separate the parameters inside the URL with a question mark. Type in the destination link, then add the UTM parameters that are listed above, and without inserting a space in between, type in the "?" symbol before inserting another parameter. Voila -- you have a tracking link!
About THE AUTHOR
After working for multiple digital advertising agencies and managing hundreds of client accounts, spending millions of dollars via Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Native Ads and Direct Media Buying, I took things out on my own and started SparrowBoost. Now, my tight-knit team and I continue to get smarter and more efficient at running our own campaigns and we share our knowledge with you.Learn more about SparrowBoost